Review of Mary Stuart

runs at Ilkley Playhouse until November 14

ELIZABETH I and Mary Queen of Scots were cousins who were both queens, but the former’s claim to her throne was ambiguous, whereas the latter’s right to sovereignty was unchallenged. They were deeply separated by religion. Schiller’s play focuses on the psychological stresses on both queens.

The play opens in Fotheringay Castle, where her reluctant jailor, Paulet, played with imperious anger by John Wise, is searching Mary’s room for evidence of plans to kill Elizabeth. Her loyal nurse, played by Ann Bradley protests, but Mary, played by Louise Button, alternating between eagerness and despair, is used to this treatment, and coolly responds to her jailor.

To theatregoers who relished Hilary Mantel’s masterpieces on Thomas Cromwell, the story that unfolds will be familiar, with its depiction of the personal and the political and their impact on the characters. A wily Burghley, played with quiet arrogance by Dick Hebbert, endeavours to protect Elizabeth, seeing the only solution to ensure stability in England is the beheading of Mary. Leicester, his political rival, played with consummate coolness by Nick Pennington, is playing a double game, and manipulates a meeting of the rival Queens in the gardens of Fotheringay Castle. The young Edward Mortimer, an eager Patrick Hebbert, is also playing a double game, but with different motivation. There are some characters with principles, and Shrewsbury, played with measured calmness by Andrew Leggatt, tries to find the middle path, to no avail.

Elizabeth, played confidently by Geraldine Woodhouse, prevaricates between wanting Mary dead and yet fearing the political consequences of such a death on the country and her own right to rule.

Schiller allowed himself the dramatic license to write a scene where the two queens meet, something that never actually happened. It is the turning point in this great play, which examines a political relationship where the stakes are as high as they can be: your life, or mine.

The Ilkley Players have chosen a play that has been in production since 1800, and with this production theatregoers will understand why. Runs until 14th November.

An innovation for the first night's performance, was the introduction of a Gala Evening offering free wine and canapés for all theatre goers. This seemed to be a huge success and it is hoped to repeat the Gala Evening Event on all future opening nights of plays in the Wharfeside Theatre.

by Lesley Matthews